Boarded Horses - Free choice hay/Hay bags

I’d like to offer hay in free feeders to my boarders. Are people finding the freedom feeder bags the easiest? We have quite a few with shoes on, and a couple of miscreants who tear things apart (mine being one of the prime offenders) so I’m waffling between getting the freedom feeder bags and the hard plastic type of feeder. I can’t seem to find data on which lasts better in a boarding barn situation.

Any input is welcome!

Our farm uses the big square heavy duty nylon Smartpak ones. Very easy to load and robust. I think tying with some type of breakaway is of course important because nylon won’t give. I love hay on the ground but I do recognize a lot ends up in the muck bin.

I know people who have had these Smartpak square nylon feeders for lots of years and they still look great.

I find hanging with the average cheap double ended snap provides good safety security. Those things break pretty easily when a horse give them too much pressure but seem to work fine for daily use.

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We have these for our two boarded boys:

We really like them. They’re huge and durable. One is several years old and still in great shape. We also cut some of the holes bigger because we don’t want to slow down their intake, but we want to keep the hay off the ground to prevent waste and we want to make sure they have plenty to eat (hard keepers.)


I’ll second the nibble net. I’ve lent mine to several people in our barn, who then buy their own but didn’t want to spend the money for the brand name and are then disappointed :slight_smile:

They are excellent quality, and really allow the hay to stretch if you have a horse on the chunky side, but you still want them to have hay lasting overnight.

I use a savvy feeder. It seems to be basically indestructible. That said it doesn’t hold a lot of hay…

Are you the ones filling the nets, or do you have help? How many horses is this for, and are they sharing nets or would this be for stalls only? What is your reason for providing the nets? Is it to offer more hay but keep things clean/tidy? Is it to slow down consumption of hay, something else?

All of those questions would change my answer for which is most suitable.

As someone who keeps their horses at home, I love my hay net (HayChix round bale net + HayChix square bale net)… BUT… As someone who has worked in barns the first 20 years of their horse-life, I despise hay nets. NibbleNets were my least favorite as a worker - they may have changed their design in the last ten years but the openings were shallow and difficult to get much more than a flake into. I worked at a 40 stall barn that had the entire yard in hay nets… It was a nightmare and took two hours to collect all the hay nets, fill them, disburse them back to their stalls and paddocks. Lots of trips back and forth too. Don’t discount the labor costs associated with hay nets.

Any net will add more labor to your barn staff’s routine, so if you are operating a larger boarding barn keep in mind that a standard hay net (2 flakes) doesn’t keep a horse busy for long and it’ll be a full time job for staff to be constantly replenishing the bag if your MO is genuine free choice hay. Bigger bags are not always better either - they can be a PITA to hang up and move around, most younger workers can’t hang a bale easily chest height or higher, and they present a few more risks of a shoe or blanket being caught in them when they get empty and hang down.

There’s also the training-the-staff considerations: horses with shoes and/or blankets should not be near any nylon string nets. Never ever on the ground, either. Any net should be horse’s chest height or higher - we hang so the net is level with their withers. Horses can and will find ways to get caught in their nets. I once had a horse get three of his shoes stuck in his NibbleNet. We couldn’t free him from the net because he was standing on top of it, he couldn’t free himself because the nylon was too strong. I ended up cutting the bag open with shears which was not a delicate task. Horse was okay with some banamine but very sore for a few days.

Getting into the safety features, I think my preference when taking safety of boarders into consideration, plus needs of horse, plus convenience needs of workers, is the large Kensington Hay Bags that can fit half to a whole bale in them. Their backs are made of the same material as blankets, with cotton/nylon string along the front. They can be hung up on the side of fences or the side of the stall chest height or higher, and have large enough slots for easy access without total wastage.

One of our horses is separated from the herd and I use these:

They are easy to stuff hay into and just keep hay above the ground - they don’t necessarily restrict intake (which I like) but they won’t prevent a messy eater from being messy, either.

Coming from the perspective as a barn grunt, I think the Kensington or a standard large cotton rope hay net are really the easiest/most convenient for staff.

I am so glad, as a tangent, to have round bales now. I use a Hay Hut + HayChix hay net and see zero waste on a 600lb bale that six horses eat from. I wish I bought the HayChix net sooner.


Great questions!

16 horses at the barn at present. Formerly the horses did not have adequate hay, nor good quality hay, so they scarf up these new decent orchardgrass flakes like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve been ramping up from 2 flakes from a small square bale twice a day (which was what they were fed by the previous owner of the barn) to 8 flakes spread across 4 feedings, but that still isn’t free choice.

Right now we have very little waste, but I suspect that if I threw more than 2 flakes at a time, they would stir it up and waste some. Also for reference, they are often done with 2 flakes in less than an hour, at least my “aggressive” eaters who were the most underweight when I got here (and yes, I’ve increased hay slowly, but they are still in starvation mindset and I haven’t gotten to the point where they don’t eat every tiny gross scrap).

Right now I’m feeding 4x/day (3 grain feedings, 4 hay feedings). Actually it might not be bad to just do the hay bags at night. Most of the horses are out during the day, and throwing extra piles out isn’t a huge deal. It’s really the long stretch from 10:30pm night check to 7am - assuming they eat that last hay feeding at the same rate as the others, they are without hay for 7 hours, and that’s just way too long.

I wish I could do round bales. I’ve got nowhere to store them and I can’t imagine someone getting them back to where I am. I’m pretty lucky to have a great hay guy who gives me awesome orchardgrass!

Expensive up front, but I absolutely adore my Porta Grazer.


Yes to the slow feed hay nets being a pain to fill. Sometimes I feel like I could squeeze my midsection into skinny jeans easier than getting a flake of hay into that net. And then how long is ONE flake of hay going to last - 30 minutes with the pig mares so then you have to try and wrestle a second flake which is almost impossible to stuff down in there. They are a huge time suck.

However with my three I pretty much have to net their hay. Mare #1 - “I have to pee. Should I step outside to 15 acres of grass?” No there is a bunch of hay on the floor. Good! I will pee there." Horse #2 " I will eat out the choice bits and spread the rest all over my stall and pee and poop on it" Horse #3 " that hay is on the ground. I don’t want it anymore". So I use nets but I still curse them for being a huge time suck in the morning.


I bought a PortaGrazer corner feeder for my old heaves horse. Big upfront cost but that sucker is solid. 3 years in and it’s shown no signs of wear. Likely cost prohibitive for the number of feeders you need, though.

My barn owner and I worked through this same dilemma. She ended up opting for the Hay Chix Free Up Feeders. The larger 24”x24” frame makes loading the hay so easy, and completely eliminates lugging and hanging full nets. When we do barn chores, we just pop a full bale in a wheel barrow and go from one stall to the next, filling feeders from there. So convenient and very low waste.

They also offer a variety of net sizes to fit the frames, so you can opt for smaller holes for the easy keepers or heavy duty netting for the destructive ones.

I see. Is this a barn take over/did you buy the barn and inherit the boarders? Whew. BTDT. You’ve got your work cut out for you but sounds like you’re on the right track.

The PortaGrazers are probably cost prohibitive for multiple horses, but they’re great in turnout.

Since this is probably something you’d be doing on your own dime and time, I’d go with the cheap cotton hay nets. They are less labor intensive to fill than the hay bags and squares, and provide slightly slower intake with the benefit of the hay being off the ground.

For cheap, easy weight gain for your boarders, I like beet pulp and/or soaked alfalfa pellets.

For your situation it may be best the hay nets only be utilized when they come in to their stalls for the night. Otherwise I imagine you and whoever works for you would be refilling hay nets all day.

I use the XL Nibblenets. I can fit 4-5 flakes in one easily (agree the smaller ones are more difficult). I put a couple of bales of hay in my Rubbermaid cart and go stall to stall, I open the front snaps of the nets and drop the hay in, close them. Easy and fast. No need to take the nets down to fill. Hay takes me 10 minutes for 13 horses.

I have some Nibblenets on year 11, still in excellent condition. They are worth the $$.

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I’m going to sound pretty wussy here, but I went from happily filling 3 slow feed nets at each feeding to 5-7 nets at each feeding, and it made a BIG difference in my workload. Like, it negatively impacted my chores and made me not want to do nets anymore.

I can’t imagine dealing with 16.

So I guess this is just my way of saying if I were in your shoes, I’d pick the easiest method for humans. I know that’s what your asking. But my preferences changed considerably when the number of nets increased, so I think it’s important to keep in mind what works for 1 horse might not work for an entire barn.

I think anything stationary is easier than carrying 16 bags or nets. If you go with bags or nets, I think snaps or zippers are preferable to trying to securely wrap 16 cords.


I use this in my horse’s stall. Not cheap, but worth every penny. I don’t bother with either grill so it’s super easy to fill and zero mess and zero wasted hay. It easily holds 24 hours of hay for one horse even when on full stall rest.

I was surprised I could get away without using the grill, but it works for my horse and makes filling it as easy as dumping hay on the floor. I buy my own hay and do my own stall so I’m not joking on the zero waste from a former stall destroyer. No hay leaves that stall in raw form LoL

Right now I’m using a cart to go up and down the aisle feeding hay so this would likely be my preference. Maybe I will get a couple as an experiment (for the fatter among my crew) and see if I can position them etc. easily enough for me or the other gal who does night check to fill them. It’s a relatively cheap experiment (as experiments go).

Yep, bought the barn, inherited the boarders. I’ve put about 150-200 lbs on the horses already just providing better/more hay, and only a couple have a bit still to go. It’s been an interesting process to say the least.

I’m a big fan of soaked beet pulp and may try to add that to the 40 year old blind toothless wonder’s regimen (had to get him up to adequate senior feed before I could move forward…he was getting 3 quarts less per day than necessary to maintain weight).

I already go out several times a day to throw hay, so refilling slow feeder hay nets might not be horrible, and might actually reduce the number of times I go out to throw hay.

As s boarder, when I wanted to slow down my hay hoover, I purchased a hay bag that the BO approved of. (this one: ) Maybe some of your boarders would be willing to do the same?

That is a good idea to see if the boarders will buy one for their horse. That one looks easy to fill.

I have one of these for my horse and it is generously big. It can fit at least 4-5 flakes easily, more if you cram.

We have it attached to the wall with 5 snaps to screw eyes. 3 at the top, 2 at the bottom. We have 3 more snaps for the top/front. Unsnap the front, drop hay and re snap. The front sort of falls open for you.

The two bottom snaps keep it snug to the wall and from swinging around. We have not had any issues with my shod horse (who paws at dinnertime) getting a foot stuck. There isn’t a lot of room for his pony feet to get behind/stuck on anything